According to a study, schools use “misleading and biased” information materials funded by the alcohol industry to educate students as young as nine about alcohol consumption.
Teachers in thousands of UK schools use lesson plans, fact sheets and films produced by bodies closely linked to the drinks trade, even as they ‘present alcohol as a normal consumer product to young people impressionable minds,” the researchers found.
The materials are intended to deter young people from underage drinking, but are potentially harmful because they downplay the harm the drink can cause and seek to “blame” manufacturers’ problems on young people, the researchers say.
Academics from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analyzed educational materials on alcohol and its impact on health developed for use in schools by three bodies: Drinkaware for Education, Smashed and Talk About Alcohol.
“Alcohol industry-sponsored youth education programs serve industry interests and promote moderate drinking while allegedly educating children about the harms and influences of alcohol consumption,” concluded the authors, who included Dr May van Schalkwyk and Professor Mark Petticrew.
“The continued exposure of children and young people to such contradictory and misleading materials requires urgent attention from policy makers, practitioners, teachers and parents, and resources dependent on industry support should stop dwindling. ‘be used in schools,’ they added.
The conclusions of the academics, who have been published in the medical journal PLOS ONE, draw on their analysis of materials produced by the three bodies – including worksheets, guidance notes for teachers and PowerPoint presentations – between 2017 and 2019.
They conclude: “All programs encouraged the familiarization and normalization of alcohol as a ‘normal’ adult consumer product, which children must learn and master in order to use it responsibly when they are older. “
The documents also “use selective presentation of harms, including cancer misinformation.” Some erroneously imply that only heavy or excessive consumption increases the risk of contracting the disease, while research shows that low levels of consumption also increase the risk of certain types such as breast and oral cancer, say -they.
Drinkaware for Education is an education initiative run by the Drinkaware organization, an industry-funded body which “aims to change UK drinking habits for the better”. It produces a range of “curriculum-linked educational resources aimed at teaching children aged 9 to 14 about the harms and risks associated with alcohol” aimed at teachers.
Smashed is a drama-based educational program that aims to educate students about underage drinking and also provides materials for teachers. Since 2005, it has been sponsored by Diageo, the beverage company that makes Guinness, Smirnoff and other brands. Diageo’s website states that “Smashed Online will be made available to over one million pupils aged 12-14 in 5,500 schools across the UK”.
Talk About Alcohol, which has produced a teachers’ manual and lesson plans, is a program run by the Alcohol Education Trust, a charity that says it “helps young people aged 11 to 25 make more informed life choices through the 4,500 schools and youth organizations we support.” Donors to the Alcohol Education Trust include bodies funded by the alcohol industry, but also the National Lottery and Police and Crime Commissioners.
Van Schalkwyk and Petticrew highlighted a slide in a PowerPoint presentation produced by Drinkaware for secondary schools containing the words “drinking alcohol makes you happy” alongside an image of young people drinking wine as an example of “normalization”. .
“The materials we analyzed contribute to the alcohol industry’s narrative that it is people’s poor choices and a lack of control or accountability as well as peer pressure that must be understood as the problem, dismissing blame it on individuals, in this case children and young people, and away from the inherent harmful nature of alcohol itself,” they said.
Drinkaware has removed the materials analyzed by the researchers from its website.
A spokesperson said: “The materials included in this search are outdated and do not reflect our current guidance. They should have been removed from our website and they have now been. We’re sorry this didn’t happen sooner.
Helena Conibear, chief executive of the Alcohol Education Trust, accused the authors of “gross misrepresentation” and of including “claims”, “polemics” and selective quotations in their findings.
“We hope our program has played a significant role in the very encouraging declines in underage drinking, drunkenness and hospital admissions over the past decade,” Conibear said. Research by University College London and the National Foundation for Education Research has shown that Talk About Alcohol delays the age at which children start drinking, and it has won awards from Teach First and The King’s Fund, a-t -she adds.
A Diageo spokesperson said: “Since Project Smashed was launched in the UK over 15 years ago, thousands of young people have explored the dangers and consequences of alcohol misuse through the program. , without reference to specific types of alcohol or brands. Underage drinking has declined in the UK over the past decade.
He pointed out that studies had found that around four in five young people aged 16 to 24 in the UK did not drink at all or stuck to the chief medical officer’s guidelines on maximum drinking, and that the proportion youth who are sober has risen to 23%.